You'd be forgiven for thinking that the only dwarf planet news right now is on Pluto, but Pluto isn't the only small world with interesting stuff going on.
ANALYSIS: We STILL Don't Know What Those Bright Blobs on Ceres Are
Closer to the sun, tucked deep inside the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, is another dwarf planet called Ceres (you may have heard of it) and something wonderfully interesting has just been spotted by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres since March.
As the Dawn mission approached the cratered, mega-asteroid, one phenomenon quickly made itself known: mysterious bright spots. One particular crater became the focus of these spots, called Occator crater, where there's a central cluster surrounded by a peppering of other bright spots. Since their discovery, these strange features have mystified planetary scientists and, although there are theories, their true nature is still being worked out.
But today, as reported by Nature's Alexandra Witze, Dawn mission scientists have announced a brand new discovery that could explain what these bright spots are: They seem to be producing haze.
ANALYSIS: Hunt for Dwarf Planet Ceres' Mysterious Water Begins
"At noontime, if you look at a glancing angle, you can see what seems to be haze," said Christopher Russell, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Dawn principal investigator. "It comes back in a regular pattern."
According to Russell, who was speaking at a NASA exploration meeting at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the haze covers about half of the crater and reaches as far as the rim.
So far, scientists have theorized that the bright spots could be concentrations of minerals or salts. Or they might be icy deposits; potentially evidence for cryovolcanism.
The spacecraft hasn't yet been able to properly analyze the spots, but the discovery of haze above a crater filled with bright dots could indicate something is outgassing into space - possibly sublimating water ice.
ANALYSIS: NASA Spacecraft Ready to Unlock Ceres' Mysteries
In 2014, the now-defunct Herschel infrared space telescope uncovered "unequivocal" evidence of water vapor at Ceres. However, since that discovery (and with the arrival of Dawn), the European observatory's detection has not been confirmed. But with the discovery of "haze" above Occator crater, perhaps we may be hot on the trail as to the nature of these mysterious bright patches and the potential source of this elusive water vapor.
For more information on today's Ames meeting, read Witze's Nature News report.